It's late at night at a refueling station when a spaceship pulls up to the pumps. What happens at a gas station that services spaceships? That's for you to decide.
This week's concept art is a painting by Stanley Von Medvey, via Kuriositas. Von Medvey is a Chicago-based freelance concept artist with a knack for blending the futuristic with the mundane. Can you come up with a story based on this image? Post it in the comments.
Here's my story:
Flores chewed a fingernail as he pulled the Belina Wilds to a full stop. He let the headlights linger on a car parked alongside an electrical pump. "Well ain't this quaint?" he said, and spat the nail at the windshield. It bounced back, rattling to a halt on the dash.
"Could you do that outside?" I asked, pulling the cap over my eyes. "You know, it'll actually biodegrade out there instead of piling up and stabbing me in the foot."
"What kind of hick planet doesn't have an orbital refueling station?" He released the airlock on the cockpit door, and it hissed as fresh air poured inside. He paused, looking back at me. "You coming?"
I gently lifted the cap up and dropped it on top of my face. "Nope," I told him. The last time I'd set foot planetside, I caught the rhinovirus. Utterly barbaric. As far as I was concerned, no place was worthy of the term "civilization" unless you had to pass through a nanocidal gel to get there.
Flores yanked the cap from my head and tossed it into the wreckage of used meal packaging that had accumulated on the cockpit floor. "Come on, you squeaker. Maybe they got shower rentals."
I peered out the door. "You think so?" We had a waste recycler for drinking water, but we had to make do with nanites for hygiene. I know they're supposed to be more efficient, but I never really felt clean until I could get under a stream of hot water. The station didn't look like much, but maybe being the only place to pump in the middle of nowhere meant they had some proper amenities.
The overhead LEDs flashed momentarily blue when we walked through the doors. A few seconds later, a small girl walked from a back room and sat behind the register. Her face was half covered by a length of shocking pink hair, which she brushed forward with her fingers. Flores called up to her, "We're filling up out front." And she raised a thumbs up without even glancing at us.
Flores scratched at his stubble on his cheek as he perused the munchies lining the shelves. All the heat-and-eats were plastered with hand-written labels that read like a 20th-century mid-American diner menu: mac and cheese with hot dogs, spaghetti and meatballs, bacons cheeseburger with fries. Not a veggie curry or bean bun among them. I wondered if they used real meat in the meals and tried not to gag at the thought.
Flores just grinned. "Quite a bounty we've got here, eh?" He loaded his arms with the heat-and-eats and asked me to get some "proper road food," too. I dutifully grabbed a basket and overfilled with crinkly bags of papadums and yucca chips. At least those probably weren't crawling with animal parasites.
When we dumped our booty on the counter, the girl unconsciously tucked back a few strands of that pink hair, revealing shiny bubbles of deformed skin. Her oversized eyelid drooped over her right eye and trailed into an alien landscape of flesh. It was a shame. She was almost pretty.
She inspected our purchases, letting her fingertip scanners dance over them, her lips silently moving as the prices rang up in her vision.
"Do you have any showers?" I asked.
Without looking up at me, she shook her head, the hair falling back over the destroyed half of her face. "Closed for maintenance," she said. "We found athlete's foot in the cells and we're still waiting on biocontam."
I tried to suppress a shudder, but it caught me and through my shoulders and spine into an awkward jerk. The girl twisted the good side of her lips into half a smile. "You guys squeaky?" she asked.
Flores clapped me on the back. "Nah, man. We're truckers. Fluke here's just spent too much time in space."
She finished tallying our purchases, looked up at Flores, and leaned in. "Do you guys want some Gum?" Her breath was strange and sweet, her teeth decorated with little yellow tattoos just bright enough to detect but too faint to make out.
Flores shook his head. "Nah, that stuff about your ears popping when you hit the atmosphere is a myth."
Her smile got wider. "No, no. Gum." She ducked beneath the counter and pulled out a small package. It did actually look like a pack of gum, except the packaging was white with no markings.
His hand still on my shoulder, Flores bobbled up and down. I groaned. Lately, he'd fancied himself something of a drug tourist, picking up garbage from every asteroid and way station we hit. Our nanites had cleaned up so much rainbow puke, we'd probably voided their warranty.
"Is this how you got that?" I pointed to the hidden half of her face.
She clutched her hair, holding it in place. "Beta version."
"Well, that's reassuring."
"Look," she flashed that half smile at Flores again and propped her chest on the counter, giving us a peek at her cleavage. No bubbles there. "I'll give you a good deal and if you like it, maybe you swing by on your way back and pick up enough to sell."
Flores leaned in, and all I could think was that he was inhaling her germs. "I'm more of a sharer than a seller, but if I like it, I'll be back for enough." This time, I managed to suppress that shudder.
As we left the station and walked back to the Belina Wilds, I rolled my eyes. "Great," I said, "another leg I get to spend watch you balls out of your mind."
Flores grinned. "Nah, man. Fire up the nanites. I got enough Gum for the both of us."